Our nation faces many climate-related challenges, but one of the most pressing is how to feed a growing population sustainably. As land resources grow scarce, it’s clear that we must look to alternative methods for food production. Aquaculture, the farming of fish and other aquatic species, is one of the solutions that can help address this challenge while supporting our communities here in California.
From an increase in locally grown seafood in our grocery stores and restaurants, to the creation of new jobs and economic opportunities across our state, the expansion of aquaculture will provide many benefits for our communities here in California and nationwide. Aquaculture also helps ensure American food security as we seek to feed a growing population sustainably.
Due to advancements in science and technology over the past several decades, offshore aquaculture is considered one of the most sustainable ways to produce protein. Well-managed modern marine aquaculture, like it is here in the U.S., produces healthful protein in the ocean with low greenhouse gas emissions and no conversion of land. Certain types of fish farming, such as shellfish and seaweed farming, can even provide environmental benefits. Seaweed, for example, has the potential to sequester carbon and can help remove CO2 from the environment; while shellfish help to filter surrounding waters, which can improve water quality, regulate ocean acidification, and support healthy ocean ecosystems.
Because of its sustainability, low water use, low feed conversion ratio, and continued movement toward plant-based feeds, aquaculture is now the fastest growing food production sector in the world. More than half of the seafood we consume globally is farm raised.
Many states, including California, are already using aquaculture to feed their communities and create jobs. Here in California, the economic impact of the aquaculture sector is valued at $200 million. While many states prove the economic case for investment in aquaculture, when it comes to global aquaculture production, the U.S. continues to fall short due to the lack of federal legislation.
You may be surprised to learn that our country currently ranks at only 17th in aquaculture production. U.S. farmed fish production lags far behind other countries like China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. Of the total $281.5 billion global aquaculture market, the U.S. is valued at $1.5 billion, or 0.5%, and we import up to 85% of the seafood we consume.
Federal legislation is needed to establish a robust American aquaculture industry so that we can grow more of our own seafood here at home. Today, an American aquaculture industry is hindered due to an inefficient federal permitting process that deters business investments here in the U.S. — taking jobs and businesses overseas. Legislation in Congress, the bipartisan Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act would correct this problem by establishing a clear, predictable permitting process for offshore fish farms that will encourage investment here in the U.S. and help grow the industry.
There are many benefits to an expanded aquaculture industry here in California and other coastal states. Commercial fishermen would benefit from collaborative aquaculture investments in local communities as the wild capture and aquaculture sectors work together to increase the seafood being brought into our ports. An increase in local fish farming businesses would help bring investments to portside and coastal infrastructure in waterfront communities. Increased seafood production would also help strengthen the seafood supply chain overall, creating new business opportunities throughout the seafood industry — from the hatcheries, to manufacturing and equipment suppliers, to seafood processing plants, to the grocery and retail stores.
That is why the California Aquaculture Association (CAA) is committed to continuing our education efforts among California residents about the many benefits that aquaculture provides, and why it’s imperative to support continued growth of the industry. CAA’s members, who grow many different species of finfish, shellfish, and seaweed for a variety of applications, including pond and lake stocking, ocean restoration, climate change mitigation, direct consumption, and more, have been producing sustainable seafood in California since the mid-1900s.
From strengthening America’s seafood supply chain, to creating new jobs in both coastal and rural states, offshore aquaculture would provide many benefits for our state and nation. The Biden Administration has recognized the role that sustainable U.S. aquaculture production can play in their Ocean Climate Action Plan that calls for the expansion of sustainable U.S. aquaculture production. With Congress’ support, we can make robust offshore aquaculture a reality and support an expanded industry here in California.
Michael Lee is the Executive Director of the California Aquaculture Association.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Aquaculture is key to meeting demand for sustainable seafood